In a move that could help keep higher-education campus networks safe, Microsoft Corp. released a beta test of a free computer security program on June 23 and is on track to launch a finished product in the fall.
The program, Microsoft Security Essentials, is designed to find and eliminate malicious software that can steal passwords and other personal information or turn PCs into spam distribution hubs. The beta test was launched in the U.S., Israel, and Brazil in English and Brazilian Portuguese.
"There are many [high-]quality security products to choose from, both free and subscription-based–however, cost and performance barriers prevent many consumers from using up-to-date security software to protect their PCs," Microsoft states on its web site.
Microsoft Security Essentials is designed for individual consumers, not enterprise users. However, Microsoft continues to offer security solutions for businesses and schools with the Forefront line of products as part of its Business Ready Security strategy, a Microsoft representative said.
Once the PC security software is installed, Microsoft said it will download updated lists of identified malware daily, but the program will keep a low profile unless it detects dangerous software.
Theresa Burch, a director on the security software team, said the program tries to spot malicious software even if it’s not on the list of known corrupters. When it encounters something suspicious, it checks with a Microsoft server for updated intelligence before allowing the program to run, a process Burch said is almost instantaneous.
Microsoft also maintains a database of trusted software sources, so the tool won’t accidentally block items like Google Inc.’s web browser toolbar, she said.
Security Essentials will compete with rival subscription-based programs from McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., and with several other free packages.
Tracy Stewart, vice president of information technology for Regent University, said Security Essentials will be a welcome addition to the things already being done on campus to ensure that a school’s public networks are staying safe.
The security software will come as a free download, but it won’t be part of Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, which is scheduled to go on sale in October. Bundling the two could be fodder for antitrust complaints.
That means students whose machines are connected to a campus network must download the software themselves. Microsoft is encouraging users to download the software by offering it free of charge, and school leaders also could point their students to this tool.
After the final version launches, Microsoft will discontinue its existing security program, the more robust $50 Windows Live OneCare.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.